Book Review: A Watershed Year by Susan Schoenberger

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Do you know what “watershed” means?  I have to admit, I had to look it up.  I had an idea, a guess that it was something like a dam or reservoir.  I was in the ballpark but not the complete meaning.  Here is the definition from that fits this usage:  an important point of division or transition between two phases.

This book is about a transitional period for the main character, Lucy.  Her life is changing – dramatically and permanently.  One of the most influential people in her life, her best friend and unspoken love has died.  She is deciding to adopt a child.  Her job is suddenly shaky.  “Lucy never confessed her love to her best friend Harlan before he passed away.  Two months after his funeral, she is haunted by the power of things left unsaid when she receives the first of his e-mails, arranged to be sent after his death.  So begins the year everything changes – Lucy’s watershed year…  When she meets her new son Mat for the first time, she realizes he’s also mending a wounded heart and is just as lost as she is… but just as they are welcoming their new normal, Mat’s father comes to America to reclaim his son…”


Author, Susan Schoenberger, lives in Connecticut with her husband and three children.  I was surprised to read this was her first novel! (I can’t wait to read more.)  But Susan is by no means new to writing.  A longtime journalist, she has also had several short stories published.   A Watershed Year won the gold medal in the William Faulkner-William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition.  Go to her website to read more!


I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book.  A Watershed Year is one of my favorites of the year.  It’s outside my usual genre, but the author tells this story with such skill that it transcends as simply a great book.  The main character is complex and interesting.  Lucy grabs your attention and then your heart.  I found myself pulling for her and hoping things would work out.  All the characters in the book were multi-dimensional, but the author gave Lucy a depth that you don’t always find in novels.  Here’s a section that struck me as an example of the writing style and fascinating descriptions in A Watershed Year. 

“There were times when Lucy felt almost transparent, insubstantial, as though her body would offer no resistance if the wind chose to lift her into the sky.  At such times, she wished she had a small brick house to call her own, something earthbound and solid that could keep her from getting swept away like the seeds of a dandelion.”

Susan Schoenberger uses language and images to tell a beautiful story of the effects of change on relationships and feelings.  I was especially struck by the way she contrived to include a character, Harlan, in the life of Lucy even though he had died at the beginning of the book.  The flashbacks are a common tool of course, but by writing about Harlan’s use of an email system that allowed him to write emails before his death that will be sent out in the future, she continues the relationship after death.  It’s all about transition for Lucy and defining what her “new” life is going to be like, who will be in it, who she will love.  We, the reader, get a rare and fascinating glimpse into grief, love, and relationships.

I especially enjoyed (and identified) with the main characters feelings as she navigated the pitfalls of international adoption.  Susan Schoenberger found an effective balance of enough detail to make it interesting, without turning it into a saga of adoption.


“A well-told tale of life and death and the way, when we least expect it, love can encompass us roundabout… This is a brave and moving novel.” – Brett Lott, Best-selling Author of the Oprah Book Club Selection “Jewel”


Disclosure: All opinions are my own or Jaime’s unless otherwise stated. I was sent a copy of the book for review in the hopes that I would blog about it. This disclosure is in compliance with FTC guidelines.


  1. 1

    It’s wonderful that you enjoyed the book and that you picked out a favorite passage of mine to highlight. Lucy feels like a real person to me, and this was one of the more subtle aspects of her character. Thanks for the review!

  2. 2

    One of your favorites this year?! Wonderful! I’m so glad to hear that it was such a good read. Thanks for being on the tour.

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